Hundreds of flights grounded after landing gear failures on turboprop planes

TORONTO — Planemaker Bombardier called for the grounding of all Q400 turboprop planes with least 10,000 flights Wednesday after failed landing gear on a Scandinavian Airlines aircraft sent it skidding off a runway in Lithuania, the second such incident in three days.

None of the 52 passengers and crew on board were injured. However, the incident closely resembled a crash landing late last week in which another SAS aircraft experienced landing gear failure. Five people were slightly injured in that incident.

The SAS, turboprop carrying 73 people caught fire Sunday after its right landing gear collapsed during an emergency landing at Aalborg’s airport in western Denmark.

The grounding Wednesday forced the cancellation of at least 200 flights worldwide. Both SAS and Horizon Air, a regional carrier operated by Alaska Air Group Inc., each canceled more than 100 flights to inspect their turboprop aircraft.

Bombardier said the grounding would affect 60 of the 160 Q400 aircraft that have been delivered worldwide.

SAS grounded its 27 Bombardier turboprops of the same make, Horizon grounded 19, and Austrian Airlines Group said it grounded eight. Bombardier Inc. would not comment on who operates the remaining six of the 60 aircraft that should be grounded.

Bombardier sent representatives to assist European authorities, saying “Bombardier cannot speculate or comment as to the cause of these incidents.”

“We decided to go ahead and to inform all our operators that there was a problem and that they should inspect all aircraft with more than 10,000 cycles as a precautionary measure,” Bombardier spokesman Marc Duchesne said.

Bombardier, the world’s No. 4 plane maker said Canadian regulators has been briefed on the situation and could recommend further “corrective actions.”

“We believe our aircraft are absolutely safe and reliable,” said Duchesne.

U.S. and Canadian aviation regulators recently ordered Montreal-based Bombardier to address wing malfunctions on certain jets flown by regional carriers in North America.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s directive, which went into effect Sept. 5, covers 684 airplanes in the U.S. fleet that were built by Bombardier and used by carriers such as Air Wisconsin and SkyWest Inc.

The airplanes have experienced flap failures over several years, according to Transport Canada, a regulatory body, which issued its own safety order affecting 87 jets last month.

On Wednesday, SAS pilots attempted to land the 80-passenger plane at on its front and left landing gear when the right set of wheels failed to extend, authorities said.

Passengers were ordered to move to the left side of the plane as it approached the runway for fear that the right propeller might shred upon landing and send shards into the cabin, said Kestutis Auryla, head of the Lithuanian Civil Aviation Administration.

On the Sunday crash landing in Denmark, shards of the propeller could be seen flying high into the air after the plane struck the runway.

The right wing struck the ground in Lithuania on Wednesday, causing a shower of sparks but no fire, Auryla said.

The Q400 turboprop eventually came to a stop in a patch of grass next to the airport’s main landing strip after turning 90 degrees. All 48 passengers and four crew were evacuated safely, he said.

The plane had taken off from Copenhagen’s international airport for a short flight across the Baltic Sea to Palanga, a resort town in western Lithuania. The pilots noticed a failure in the landing gear during the flight and decided to land at Vilnius because the airport has a long, wide runway.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines is buying Q400 turboprops for a regional service, which is still awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval.

The airline will work closely with Bombardier to determine if any changes are required as a result of its inquiry, Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said.

Bombardier shares fell more than three percent, or 21 cents, to $6.19 Wednesday.

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